2010 seems to have been the year of mobile media. At every turn, we were bombarded with statistics on mobile networks, ideas for new mobile campaigns and the overarching message that without incorporating mobile strategy, we were somehow missing out. The craze of mobile media was heard loud and clear but it has lead me to wonder whether it is properly deserved. In Africa, is mobile truly critical or if has it been overhyped as the must-have technology this past year?
With more than 400 million subscribers, the mobile phone market is currently larger in Africa than in North America. Once never considered as a target market, international companies are now flocking to the continent knowing that mobile use is incredibly high in comparison to other technologies here. According to statistics provided by Vincent Maher on Bizcommunity, co-founder of Motribe, 10-11 million people in South Africa are using the Internet via mobile devices. This figure is almost double that of desktop Internet users in the country and figures are even more exaggerated outside South Africa. Mobile Internet usage is allowing for wider Internet access in an African context where Internet penetration has not yet reached a high percentage of the population.
From a marketing perspective, mobile campaigns have the potential to include a much larger pool of users here providing a larger audience which provides the opportunity to have a bigger and broader impact to those brands are trying to reach. South African companies used this to their advantage when many firms started sending statements via MMS letting go of paper copies. Companies are also increasingly showing their faith in mobile by building mobile sites to go along with their traditional website. As e commerce heats up on the continent, this will become increasingly important.
Perhaps the most effective way of using mobile technologies is when combining mobile media with other mediums in getting out the overall message. For example, a mobile campaign can be integrated with the web for a multi-channel impact. We can pair the use of cell phones with the emerging interest in social media on the continent, allowing for global conversations and connections. In this pairing of mobile and social, we can create a shift to mobile Internet use, using mobile to integrate with the web and using mobile to promote it.
African Social Media blogger and entrepreneur, Erik Hersman, notes “with mobile phone penetration already high across the continent, and as we get to critical mass with Internet usage in some of Africa’s leading countries (Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt) … a seismic shift will happen with services, products and information.”